A new study by the Food for Climate League and the Better Food Foundation has found that switching from a meat-default to a plant-default led to 81% of US students choosing plant-based meals and therefore lowered greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 24%

The study, titled “Serving Up Plants By Default: Optimizing Variety, Health, And Sustainability Of All-You-Care-To-Eat University Dining With Plant-Based Defaults”, also found that students were significantly more likely to express satisfaction with vegan meals on days when plant-based meals were the default. 

The research, sponsored by several organisations which include Sodexo and VegFund, involved several universities, including Tulane University in New Orleans, Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. The study is the first multi-university in-field experiment of default plant-based options within all-you-care-to-eat settings. 

The researchers assessed one dining hall station containing eight pairs of dishes (one meat-based and one plant-based) throughout 35 lunch periods across three universities. On the plant-default day, the plant-based dish was presented as the only option, though students could request the meat version if desired. On the control day, both meat and plant-based dishes were presented side-by-side. The result was a reduction in the consumption of meat across two dining stations that implemented the plant-based default consistently across the study, from nearly 31% before the study to nearly 82% by the end of the study. 

Eve Turow-Paul, Food for Climate League founder and Executive Director, said, “Companies like Sodexo have made ambitious climate commitments that they can only achieve by serving more plant-based foods. The challenge for food service leadership is how to make this shift while keeping students and staff satisfied. Behavioural nudges, including defaults, are a powerful addition to their toolkit for achieving this goal.”  Jennifer Channin, Better Food Foundation Executive Director, said, “This study confirms what we’ve seen repeatedly: that Gen-Z students are not only open to plant-cantered dining, but that they feel good about eating in places that centre plant-based meals. These findings give us hope that the plant-cantered food system our world needs is easier to achieve than we used to think.”

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.